Friday, June 01, 2007

Chancery Court Blocks Christina from Closing City Schools

The News Journal reports that the suit challenging the Christina School District’s plan to close three schools in Wilmington while building a new one south of Newark was successful. Vice Chancellor Leo Strine ruled that the district violated the Neighborhood Schools Act:
The city and five parents whose children attend targeted schools contended in a lawsuit filed in March that the closings were illegal because the district never got a Neighborhood Schools Plan approved by the state Board of Education. The Neighborhood Schools Act, approved in 2000, requires school districts in northern New Castle County to submit "fair and equitable" plans that would allow students to attend grade-appropriate schools closest to their homes. Christina submitted two plans to the state, in 2001 and 2002, but both were rejected.
Strine agreed that the district is in violation of the law, saying the district "by early 2005, was content to muddle along, here and there making changes to feeder patterns and closing a school, but not undertaking any effort to come up with a formal Neighborhood School Plan, as required by the Act."
Strine also agreed with the city, and parents Annette Harden, Rose Thomas, Nickea Rowe, Dawn Rowe and Aline Black that city students wouldn't get a fair shot at attending schools near their homes if the three schools closed before a Neighborhood Schools Plan was approved.
"The plaintiffs' argument is an intensely pragmatic one," he said.
Which may have something to do with the success of the plaintiffs' suit. Historically, Chancery Court has been less concerned with grand legal principles and more with pragamtic, rational results. My radio partner, Hube, found it ironic that city parents used the Neighborhood Schools Act, championed by Wayne Smith, as a tool to keep city schools open. I remember when Smith came to Wilmington to try to convince a room full of skeptical parents that his bill would benefit city kids as well as suburban kids. He did not meet with much success. But the law is the law and Strine ruled that it should be applied fairly:
In his 73-page ruling, Strine blasted the district's strategic plan, saying it allowed suburban kids to avoid being bused to Wilmington, while most city kids would be forced to travel approximately 15 miles down I-95 for the last seven of their 13-year public school careers.
"As I understand it, the plaintiffs view Christina's approach to neighborhood schools in terms that bring to mind Chef Emeril Lagasse's term, 'one-sided-tasting food,' " Strine wrote. "Suburban kids get to eat from the tasty, seasoned side of the roast; city kids from the side without flavor."
He also raised the question of why the Christina School District is even in the business of teaching city kids:
Strine also repeatedly noted the nonsensical makeup of the school district. The Wilmington portion is an island, while most of the district is in the Newark area.
New Castle County Councilman Jea Street said he hopes Strine's decision will force the state Legislature to get Christina out of the business of educating Wilmington's children.
City leaders have long lamented that having four districts serve Wilmington Balkanizes and dilutes the city’s ability to influence the governance of education in their neighborhoods. Cutting Christina loose from the unwanted burden of educating city students strikes me as a rational step that would likely please parents throughout the bifurcated district.
You can read the decision here.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Time for the government to get out of the business of running schools. They are obviously incompetent. Let the State pay for the schooling and let the private sector provide the education. Then every one can get what they want without fighting over curriculum, dress codes, hours or whatever.

Ah, peace and education. Sound good?

3:22 PM, June 01, 2007  
Blogger Tom Noyes said...

I am not convinced that the magic of the marketplace would transform public education.

Private enterprise is better at serving segments of markets than serving entire markets. Consider FedEx and the U.S. Postal Service: FedEx does a great job of serving high value customers and turns a decent profit doing so. The USPS, which is considered less efficient, does something that FedEx doesn't do; it serves every household in the U.S. six days a week. If FedEx tried to do that, it would necessarily become less efficient, less profitable, or both.

There's a U-shaped curve I learned in economics that describes the efficiency of any enterprise. Somewhere between a handful of customers and the entire market is the natural point of maximum efficiency. Economies of scale kick in as a business captures more of the market, but other factors take over as a business expands towards 100 percent of a market. It just becomes more expensive to give "everyone what they want."

This is why Microsoft doesn't provide operating systems for every computer on the planet. You can't please everybody, and if you do, your product or service becomes unwieldy and begins to lose efficiency. This is why Windows became so bloated and Microsoft has been called the GM of software.

The pressures facing public education wouldn't go away if private enterprise took over. Giving "everyone what they want" is expensive; we would still see "fighting over curriculum, dress codes, hours or whatever."

8:11 AM, June 02, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the shout out, Tom. (Your link to Colossus is bad, though!)

City leaders have long lamented that having four districts serve Wilmington Balkanizes and dilutes the city’s ability to influence the governance of education in their neighborhoods.

But this goes back to the original deseg order of 1978. This is why I have brought up, time and time again, just what IS IT that city leaders want? When the original deseg order was about to be lifted, city leaders threatened legal action and, indeed, followed through (unsuccessfully). When Smith brought up the NSA, as you note, he was met w/skepticism and threats of legal action.

I wrote yesterday that this decision is also a vindication of Smith and the NSA. You are correct -- the law is the law, and Christina's plans under the law have been shot down. Maybe they could, however, apply for "hardship" status as other districts have successfully done.

10:54 AM, June 02, 2007  
Blogger Tom Noyes said...

The questions you raise about the history of the 1978 deseg order and the fight over lifting the order in 1993-94, the Neighborhood Schools Act, and the question of what city leaders want, all demand more time than I have this morning. I'll take these up in the near future.

As for the link, I fixed it.

11:54 AM, June 02, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Glad you have gotten the conversation started on this extremely important subject.
I sat through the first day of the trial and was able to pass some information to the attornies about CSD that they didn't know.
I am wrapped up with CSD from a few angles, one being an unhappy resident-CSD taxpaying homeowner. Also historic La Grange's new owner and his attornies (Pam Scott et al from Saul Ewing) were involved wheeling and dealing with CSD on a number of levels - FOIA worthy questions put to CSD concerning Wise and who he was wining and dining on our dime.

Wise spent a huge chunk of change moving the CSD offices from their central Newark location to Wilmington. A few insiders said he did it to have a Wilmington business address on his resume.

Anyway. We have an illogical district delineation now that we have the NSA, they must be reconfigured. CSD has had to suffer the explosive growth along Route 40 - 100K people or so. Districts should have a even balance of population redrawn on the basis of the census.

I see that good old Strine does not disappoint - he always uses fine dining analogies!

12:41 PM, June 02, 2007  

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